Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Bookman's Tale

This is one of the books I intended to read in 2013, but never managed to get to -- The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett.  Still intend to read it, even though I'm about a year late.  These are the opening lines:
Wales could be cold in February. Even without snow or wind the damp winter air permeated Peter's topcoat and settled in his bones as he stood outside one of the dozens of bookshops that crowded the narrow streets of Hay. Despite the warm glow in the window that illuminated a tantalizing display of Victorian novels, Peter was in no hurry to open the door. It had been nine months since he had entered a bookshop; another few minutes wouldn't make a difference. There had been a time when this was all so familiar, so safe; when stepping into a rare bookshop had been a moment of excitement, meeting a fellow book lover a part of a grand adventure.
Peter Byerly was, after all, a bookseller.

Initial Thoughts:  Well, so far,  I like it -- even though I haven't gotten any further than that first page.  It's got me wondering -- if he's a bookseller, why exactly has he been away from bookshops for so long.  Also, I've always wanted to visit Hay-on-Wye, a town world-famous for its second-hand and antiquarian bookshops.  And any book about a bookseller just has to be something I'll enjoy.  So I'm looking forward to this one.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar

Translated from the French by Grace Frick
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1957; 151 pages
First published 1939

From the publisher:
Set in the Baltic provinces in the aftermath of World War I, Coup de Grâce tells the story of an intimacy that grows between three young people hemmed in by civil war: Erick, a Prussian fighting with the White Russians against the Bolsheviks; Conrad, his best friend from childhood; and Sophie, whose unrequited love for Erick becomes an unbearable burden.

My Thoughts:

This was my introduction to Marguerite Yourcenar's writing: Coup de Grâce is a book I've had in my "must read" stack for several decades now, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it even though I can't say it's destined to go on my list of favorites.  The writing is beautiful and the story, though a bit chaotic, is one that sticks with you after you've closed the book.

The short novel is narrated in first person by the book's main character, Erick von Lhomond, an aristocratic young officer fighting against the Bolsheviks in the 1917-1922 civil war.  Erick, his childhood friend Conrad and some of their fellow officers and soldiers are sheltering in a house on Conrad's family estate, waiting to advance in the fighting.  Conrad's aunt and his sister Sophie are also in residence -- along with a female servant, they are the only women in the group of men.  Early on, we learn that Sophie had been assaulted by one of the soldiers, although she tries to keep the fact a secret for as long as possible. 

We get only the story that Erick sees fit to tell, and it's hard to know exactly how dependable a narrator Erick is.  He certainly doesn't come across as admirable or likable, so I suppose we have to believe he's honest.  Of the other characters in the book, I think only Sophie was distinct and memorable.  Some of her actions are a little hard to understand -- but she loves Erick apparently to distraction, and Erick does not love her.  (Erick is actually more interested in Conrad, and memories of their youth together.)  So I guess we're to assume that unrequited love can drive a person to sad and dangerous lengths.  Well, it makes a good story anyway.

It's a short, quick read, and the writing is brilliant.  I don't want to give away much more of the plot, but I'll just say that the ending is very sad.  Well, it's a war story, after all.  Sad, but satisfying. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Reading Update

"CMS Reading by Gaslight" 1884, William Stott (1857-1900)

I did quite a bit of reading last week -- managed to finish two books I've had going for a couple of weeks now, and a few that have been on my TBR list longer than that.  Even though several of them were really short, I still feel that I accomplished quite a lot.  It's unlikely that I'll be able to keep up that pace, but at least I've made a good beginning for the year.

Finished last week

Reading this week

Waiting in the wings

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: Ten Lords A-Leaping

This week my teaser lines come from Ten Lords A-Leaping by C.C. Benison.  I really haven't started this one -- I just recently received it from the publisher.  It's the third and latest book in Benison's Father Christmas Mysteries series, featuring Tom Christmas, amateur sleuth and vicar of the idyllic little English village of Thornford Regis.  I haven't read either of the other books in the series, so I'm not exactly sure who's who and what's what yet, but anything with a character named Father Christmas has to be worth taking a look at, right?  This snippet comes from p.148:
"I say, Grandmama," Max began as they passed into a cool dark hall, his voice rich with import. "I have some astonishing news....Uncle Olly's gone and snuffed it."
Miranda giggled.
"Miranda!" Tom cautioned.
"Sorry, Daddy." She turned her head to look back up at him, but she didn't appear remorseful.
Uncle Olly who's "gone and snuffed it" was Lord Morborne, who's been found dead (apparently strangled) in the center of a labyrinth on his estate. Now that certainly appears promising, doesn't it?  Sounds like a combination of Agatha Christie and Downton Abbey -- which should be right down my street, dontcha know.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

2014 Chunkster Reading Challenge

I was going to give this one a miss this time around, since I'm pretty much committed to reading shorter books this year.  But there are two or three massive tomes I'd like to get through, too.  So I'm signing up for the 2014 Chunkster Reading Challenge, hosted this year by Vasilly.

For the purposes of the challenge, a chunkster is a book with 450 or more pages; it can be fiction or nonfiction, and e-books and audiobooks are allowed.  If you need inspiration, you can find some good chunkster suggestions over on the challenge blog

One really nice thing about this year's challenge is there are no set levels of participation - you can set your own level without being locked into a predetermined number of books.  I'm going to aim for just two big books this year: 

1. Ten Lords A-Leaping. C.C. Benison (490 pages)

Hoping to do a little better than that, but two might just be all I can handle. 

Book Beginnings: The Only Problem by Muriel Spark

This week I've been reading Muriel Spark's short novel The Only Problem, first published in 1984.  These are the opening lines:
He was driving along the road in France from St Dié to Nancy in the district of Meurthe; it was straight and almost white, through thick woods of fir and birch.  He came to the grass track on the right that he was looking for.  It wasn't what he had expected.  Nothing ever is, he thought.

Initial Thoughts:  Well, my first thought was that I'd really, really love to get back to France someday.  Other than that, the opening didn't exactly grab me.  But I've read enough Muriel Spark to know that no matter how mundane the book may seem at the start, amazing things will emerge.  She was such a wonderful writer.  And this is another book I've been meaning to read for a couple of decades now. Glad I finally got around to it.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 Mount TBR Challenge

Hosted by: Bev @ My Reader's Block
Dates: January 1 - December 31, 2014

I honestly thought I had already signed up for this challenge.  Apparently not, though - so I'm doing it now.  I'm always trying to reduce the size of that "must read someday" list/pile, so this challenge is something I really need.

All the guidelines are available over at the challenge announcement/sign-up site (HERE).  I'll be signing up at the "Pike's Peak" level (read 12 books).  I don't really have a list ready (although I have SOME of my TBR list posted over at GoodReads), so I'll just add titles as I go:


WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly reading event hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Right now I'm reading (and enjoying) The Only Problem, by Muriel Spark

and Fog Magic, by Julia L. Sauer (also enjoying):

Just a couple of chapters left to read in each of those.

Recently I've finished Coup de Grâce, by Marguerite Yourcenar.

Up next?  Well, I still have a few more pages to go in the first book I started this year - The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence:

The fact that it's taking me so long to finish it definitely doesn't reflect on the quality of book; it's an excellent read.  And when I'm done with Alex and the Universe and everything, I think I might try something for the Vintage Mystery Bingo reading challenge.  Possibly Too Many Cooks, by Rex Stout

or The Man in the Queue, by Josephine Tey.

That should keep me busy for the rest of the month.  Now I'm off to see what everybody else is reading.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Reading Update

The Fairy Tale, by Walther Firle (German, 1859-1929)

Last week, I finished Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar.  My first book of 2014!

And it was such a short book, it really shouldn't have taken me so long to get through it.  But at least I've managed to get something read this month.  This is shaping up to be a busy week for me, but I'm hoping to get a short review up today or tomorrow.

Also hoping to get a little more reading done.  I've got a couple of books going right now, but the one that's really got me hooked is one I'm reading for the Newbery Challenge -- Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer. 

First edition cover art by Lynd Ward

Lately, my favorite books all seem to be children's lit.  And pretty ancient children's lit at that.  Second childhood, maybe?  No -- by now, I'm definitely on my third or fourth.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays: Coup de Grâce

This week my teaser lines come from Marguerite Yourcenar's short novel Coup de Grâce, first published in 1939.  In this snippet, the book's narrator and central character Erik von Lhomond is remembering his relationship with the sister of his best friend.
Between Sophie and me an intimacy swiftly sprang up like that between victim and executioner. The cruelty was not of my making; only the circumstances were to blame.... (p.33)

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Monday Reading Update

"Train Ride" by Agnes Cleeve (Swedish, 1896-1951)

This week I'm going to try my best to get back to some serious reading, now that all the holiday hubbub is dying away.  Also trying to organize some of the books I'm going to be reading for the various reading challenges I've signed up for (sixteen, and possibly one more to come).  I've got a couple of books going (as usual), but the one I'm concentrating on at the moment is Coup de Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar.

It's a book I've intended to read for years now, and my Alphabet Challenge over at Library Thing gave me the nudge I needed.  So far, I'm enjoying it although it's not exactly what I expected.  But it's a short book and I'm almost halfway through it - should be able to finish it up tonight.

After that, next up is The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence.  Tried to begin that one last month, but only managed to get a few pages read, so I'm starting over.  The bits I've peeked at up to now have been amazing, and I'm hoping it continues to delight.

For the rest of January, I'm trying to stick with shorter works.  Maybe some Muriel Spark.  Maybe a Newbery winner or two.  Don't want to get bogged down in chunksters just as the year is getting started.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Dear Blog: Happy Birthday!

On January 1st, way back in 2006, I made my very first entry on this blog.  Back then, it was called Joy's Blog -- creative, right?  It was pretty brief, just your basic "Hello, World" post.

At that point, I wasn't really committed to blogging -- didn't even completely understand exactly what a blog was.  I said I'd use it to "make my private rantings official."  And I did a little of that at first. 

After that first hello, it took me almost a whole year to post another entry (see: Gall Stones, Gidget, and Other Matters).  Very soon after that, though, I discovered "book blogging," and the rest is...well, maybe not history, exactly.  Mostly babbling, I'm afraid.  But it's been fun.  And it's definitely got me back into reading after years of hardly opening a book.

So, eight years later, the blog goes on.  For now.

Here comes another year.

Reading in 2013 -- Faves and Not So Much

2013 was not a great year for me, when it comes to reading.  I only read 38 books during the year -- not very impressive, although that's actually more books than I read in 2012 (so I am improving my record).  I don't generally do end-of-year wrap-ups, but I just wanted to do a bit of stock-taking today.

I keep a "collection" of the books I read each year, over at Library Thing, with ratings for each book.  And looking at that, I see that of the 38 books I read in 2013, fourteen got at least a four-star rating.  And one -- Heroic Measures, by Jill Ciment -- got a full five stars and has gone on my list of all-time favorites.  It's a wonderful little book, and I'd still like to get a review posted one of these days.

Of the other four-star books, two really stand out in my memory -- The Shooting Party, by Isabel Colegate (a book that's been on my TBR list for many years, and was apparently one of the inspirations for TV's "Downton Abbey"), and Night Film, by Marisha Pessl.  The Pessl book was a real surprise: It was not something I expected to like so much; but it kept me up all night twice, until I got it read -- a definite good sign!

At the other end of the spectrum, there were actually a few books I didn't rate at all.  One of them was The Buddhist Catechism, by Henry Steel Olcott.  Nothing wrong with it -- it is what it is.  Just not a book I felt was rate-able.  The other two no-star books were Time Will Tell, by Donald Greig, and A Fearful Madness, by Julius Falconer.  I had trouble getting through both of those -- just not my cuppa, but don't let that put you off giving them a try.

Well, that's it for 2013.  I'll be giving that elusive 50-book goal another try in 2014.  Fingers crossed.

Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014

Dates: January 1 - December 31, 2014

See the announcement/sign-up page for all the details.  I'll be signing up at the Dilettante Level (1-5 nonfiction books).


Books Read in 2014

Cumulative Reading List

Here's where I'll be tracking my reading in 2014.

I've been pursuing the same seemingly unreachable goal for several years now ﹣ to read fifty books in one year.  I'm a very slow reader (very slow), so reading nearly a book a week is probably never going to be something I'll achieve.  But I keep trying.  Gives me something to shoot for.  In 2013 I read 38 books ﹣ a long way from 50, but a few more than I read in 2012.  So I'm getting closer.  Maybe this year....


1. Coup de Grâce. Marguerite Yourcenar (1939; fiction; 151 pages)
2. The Hundred Dresses. Eleanor Estes; illus. by Louis Slobodkin (1944; children's fiction; 81 pages)
3. Fog Magic. Julia L. Sauer (1943; YA fiction; 128 pages) 
4. The Only Problem. Muriel Spark (1984; fiction; 189 pages)
5. The Universe Versus Alex Woods. Gavin Extence (2013; fiction; 407 pages; ARC)
6. Andrew's Brain. E.L. Doctorow (2014; fiction; 200 pages; ARC)
7. The Book Boy. Joanna Trollope (2006; fiction; 94 pages)


8. Ten Lords A-Leaping. C.C. Benison (2013; fiction; 490 pages)

MARCH 2014

9. The Innocent Sleep. Karen Perry (2014; fiction; 325 pages; ARC)
10. While Beauty Slept. Elizabeth Blackwell (2014; fiction; 432 pages; ARC)

APRIL 2014

11. The Thief of Always. Clive Barker (1992; fiction; 288 pages)
12. The Litter of the Law. Rita Mae Brown (2013; fiction; 233 pages)

MAY 2014

13. The Bookman's Tale. Charlie Lovett (2013; fiction; 368 pages)

JUNE 2014

14. Love Story, with Murders. Harry Bingham (2013; fiction; 388 pages)

JULY 2014

15. Midnight in Europe. Alan Furst (2014; fiction; 272 pages; ARC)
16. The Antiquarian. Gustavo Faveron Patriau (2014; fiction; 240 pages; ARC)
17. The Lady in the Lake. Raymond Chandler (1943; fiction; 243 pages)
18. The High Window. Raymond Chandler (1942; fiction; 272 pages)
19. The Quilter's Apprentice. Jennifer Chiaverini (1999; fiction; 272 pages) 
20. The Collector of Dying Breaths. M.J. Rose (2014; fiction; 384 pages; ARC)


21. The Good Suicides. Antonio Hill (2012, 2014; fiction; 352 pages; ARC)
22. Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster. Terrance Dicks (1976; fiction; 192 pages)
23. The Colors of Space. Marion Zimmer Bradley (1963; fiction; 114 pages)
24. The Weight of Blood. Laura McHugh (2014; fiction; 320 pages) 
25. The Transcriptionist. Amy Rowland (2014; fiction; 246 pages; ARC)


26. Peter Pan Must Die (Dave Gurney series #4). John Verdon (2014; fiction; 441 pages; ARC)
27. Island Girls. Nancy Thayer (2013; fiction; 302 pages)
28. The Mist in the Mirror. Susan Hill (1992/2014; fiction; 288 pages)


29. The Two Hotel Francforts. David Leavitt (2013; fiction; 272 pages)
30. The Celtic Dagger (Alistair Fitzjohn #1). Jill Paterson (2010; fiction; 221 pages)
31. Children of the Revolution (Inspector Banks series #21). Peter Robinson (2013; fiction; 389 pages)
32. The Dirty Book Murder (Antiquarian Book Mystery #1). Thomas Shawver (2014; fiction; 220 pages)


33. Murder at the Painted Lady. Barbara Warren (2011; fiction; 186 pages)
34. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce #6). Alan Bradley (2014; fiction; 368 pages)
35. Bliss House. Laura Benedict (2014; fiction; 400 pages)
36. The Days of Anna Madrigal. Armistead Maupin (2014; fiction; 270 pages)


37. The Family Under the Bridge. Natalie Savage Carlson (1958; fiction; 123 pages)
38. James Garner's Motoring Life. Matt Stone (2014; nonfiction; 160 pages)
39. The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1925; fiction; about 300 pages)
40. My Father's Dragon. Ruth Stiles Gannett; illus. by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (1948; fantasy; 96 pages)
41. The Light Princess. George MacDonald (1864; fantasy; about 100 pages)
42. Missing May. Cynthia Rylant (1992; fiction; 100 pages)
43. The Cat Who Went to Heaven. Elizabeth Coatsworth (1930; fiction; 96 pages)
44. The Reluctant Dragon. Kenneth Grahame (first published 1898; fantasy; about 60 pages)
45. Chess Story. Stefan Zweig (first published 1941; fiction; 104 pages)
46. With Folded Hands. Jack Williamson (first published 1947; sci-fi; 53 page "novelette")